If High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet was representing Burundi or any other less influential developing country, we would be reporting on him in absentia today. By now, he would have been made to pack his katundu and forced out of Zambia like an Ebola-infected illegal immigrant.
The Patriotic Front government is angry with this British High Commissioner on grounds that he has taken the gloves out in expressing his views about corruption levels in Zambia.
State House press aide Amos Chanda recently said that a serious decision would be made soon on the Financial Intelligence Center because of its recent undesired conduct. Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya has also lambasted the FIC for sharing the 2017 trends report, and the PF aligned Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) has come out to call for the dismissal of Mary Tshuma, the FIC director general and the entire board.
High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet says this is all utter nonsense! He says there is no sensitive information contained in the report and totally disagrees with his host country’s position. In fact, he says his role in Zambia is to champion democratic principals while flagging dangers of authoritarianism and corruption.
The British Envoy has been posting these candid governance views on his Twitter page. But somehow, one of his tweets was misunderstood to mean him calling Honourable Siliya as the minister of misinformation. This disturbed government and State House so much that they launched an immediate enquiry to ascertain the authenticity of the fabricated tweet that was circulated on Social Media.
After an investigation, they felt that, although High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet was disagreeing with the government’s position on the FIC, his comments were not sufficient to necessitate his recall.
We need to remind our readers of another diplomatic incident which led to the expulsion of Cuban Ambassador Nelson Pages Vilas. Specifically, we would like to remind the readers about the misinformation that was used to chase the Cuban Envoy barely two days after his arrival.
State House accused the Cuban Ambassador of attending a Socialist Party function and announcing at that event that he would support the newly formed opposition party. Without being summoned for questioning, President Edgar Lungu made a decision in less than 24 hours to immediately expel the diplomat. The truth is that the Cuban Envoy said no such thing. But considering that no investigation was done, a wrong, hasty decision cemented the authoritarian image on the Zambian Head of State.
But High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet is not an ordinary diplomat. He was sent by Britain, one of Zambia’s top bilateral donors and member of the G7 countries, to foster international relations with Africa. He is in Zambia to represent the interests of his fellow British taxpayers and report back on how the donor aid from his country is being used.
How has the PF government handled the case of this British Envoy compared to Cuban Ambassador Vilas? They have taken every precaution to avoid getting at loggerheads with the UK. They reviewed all his comments and verified with the media organisations that published his tweets to confirm that indeed nothing was deleted or fabricated. This is how it ought to be.
If the government had made similar inquires on Cuban Ambassador Vilas three months ago, that embarrassing decision would have been avoided. But they acted without reason and made a poor diplomat pay for the sins that he did not commit.
We are not schooled in international relations and therefore, we may not appreciate the diplomacy of praising criminals in government, but we always deal with facts and from facts, we express our opinions. If it is illegal for a diplomat to disagree with a host government’s position on a given matter, then the PF government has a good reason for expelling High Commissioner Cochrane, than they had a reason for touching Ambassador Vilas.
But when we look at available facts, we have difficulties supporting any move to expel the British Envoy actually, because he has told no single lie. His view is that there is rampant corruption in Zambia, orchestrated by the political elite who have been unsettled by the work being done by the FIC. He says it’s utter nonsense for anyone to call for the removal of the FIC leadership.
We can’t find anything wrong with the High Commissioner’s observations. Is it a lie that there is corruption among government leaders in Zambia? No, President Lungu himself announced that his Cabinet Ministers are depositing unexplained colossal sums of money in their bank accounts. This is the same money that the FIC traced and announced to the public without naming the culprits, so what sensitive intelligence can be contained in information which the President already made public?
According to Honourable Siliya and her Foreign Affairs counterpart Joe Malanji, the government expected High Commissioner Cochrane to secretly write to the government and express his governance concerns without making his views public. The PF government doesn’t want influential people like the British Envoy saying the truth publicly.
In fact, this is the same sin that Tshuma has committed. Even if what she reported in the trends report were facts, she should not have gone public with the information. How can a country be said to be serious in the fight against corruption like this?
We are not blindly supporting the FIC. In fact, as a news organization, we are desperately looking for proof to show that indeed the FIC leadership is using the institution to fight personal battles. And when we get hold of any such evidence, we will not hesitate to let the Zambian people know. But in the absence of this information, we stand in total solidarity with High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet and all those who are defending Tshuma.
That said, we find no other reason why the PF government would like to fight corruption away from public eyes, other than to hide evidence and blackmail the whistleblowers. What they don’t know is that corruption levels in Zambia are so alarming to hide. How can people keep quiet when they can see with their eyes that money is being stolen in broad daylight with impunity?
High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet has been in Zambia for the past two years, and he has been tweeting since his arrival in Lusaka. Honourable Siliya and her colleagues in State House must ask themselves, why has he removed the gloves now? The answer is; it’s too much, this theft cannot go unannounced.
A quick background search on this British Envoy tells us that he is not a “yes bwana” diplomat. He is frank and fearless. Others may call him unrepentant, but we call him a radical anti-corruption crusader. Keep on tweeting, Your Excellency, you are our hope now since we can see they can’t dare UK like they dared Cuba.